We’re very proud to announce that on Monday, October 6, our very own Executive Board Chair and Personal Assistant Flora Johnson was awarded with the Evelyn Coke Lifetime Achievement Award in St. Louis.
Flora has been a leader for 12 years in our union, anchoring activism in Chicago. She has logged more than 250 union activities, from rallies, to actions and negotiations – plus everything in between!
Flora has served as the SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana Missouri Kansas Executive Board Chair since 2008 and also was the President of former Local 880.
In addition to her activism, Flora, who’s now 81 years strong, has been a Personal Assistant for 15 years for her son Kenneth, who was born with cerebral palsy. Flora has lobbied tirelessly for accessible services and fully funded home care programs for seniors and people with disabilities.
The award was presented by SEIU HCIIMK President Keith Kelleher and SEIU International Vice President Kirk Adams. Here are Flora’s remarks upon accepting this incredible honor:
Thank you so much to Kirk Adams for his unwavering leadership nationally, and to my dear friend and partner in the fight to lift home care workers out of the shadows, Keith Kelleher.
I’m Flora Johnson and this is such an honor to receive this award with you all tonight. We’ve come together from all over the country and we have an important common bond that connects us to each other, and that is a commitment to moving home care forward – for seniors, people with disabilities, families, and workers.
My story starts 47 years ago on the south side of Chicago, when my son Kenneth was born. Kenneth has cerebral palsy and needs help with the everyday tasks that many of us take for granted – help with getting dressed, eating, bathing, exercise, and more. I’ve been caring for Kenneth his entire life, and thanks to home care programs he’s been able to remain living at home where he wants to be. And he has a full life, he makes me so proud. Whether it’s Kenneth running circles around me on the computer or when he’s travelling all over the world to compete internationally playing bocce ball, he has led an independent life with dignity and for that I am so thankful.
But without a strong home care program in Illinois, I don’t know if this would have been possible. And the way we have been able to build this program to where it’s at today is through our union.
30 years ago, Illinois home care workers made $1 an hour, with no benefits, no training, and no voice at all. We lived in the shadows with our consumers.
I remember the first time an organizer came to my door to get me involved in making change for workers and home care consumers. His name was Ross, and he didn’t take no for an answer. He kept coming back and I kept listening, but kept saying no.
Then, I finally realized, Ross was right, and Ross was going to keep coming back until I got the message.
From there, I attended my first meeting and I was blown away – and the rest is history!
Everything changed with our union. The State had to take us seriously and by uniting with seniors and people with disabilities, we are truly a force to be reckoned with.
Today, Personal Assistants in Illinois earn $12.25 an hour, and starting on December 1, we will earn $13 an hour. We have quality health insurance. We have paid training. And best of all, turnover has gone down and home care consumers get the reliable, qualified workforce that they need.
But we’re not done yet! We’re looking ahead to winning $15 and paid time off!
This past summer a Supreme Court case, Harris v Quinn, brought by the National Right to Work Foundation attempted to take us backward. We know we’re being attacked because we’re strong and we will not let any court case stop home care workers and consumers from sticking together and fighting for good jobs and quality care.
Many questioned if home care unions could survive the blow from that Supreme Court decision. I think they got their answer when 27,000 caregivers in Minneosta voted to unite and join the fight with SEIU in July! Don’t you?! Congratulations Minnesota!
And how fitting that we’re standing together here in Missouri, where 13,000 home care workers are fighting for their first contract! Missouri Home Care Union workers – we’ve ALL got your backs!
As we continue this summit and head back to our communities, it’s up to us to get creative about reaching out to millions of caregivers to bring them into this fight so we have the strength to take on the challenges ahead. I know I’m up for it, and I’m counting on all of you to join me.